Competition in the electric vehicle space is getting tougher and more complex, with the operator of Europe’s biggest network of intelligent Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (ESVE) stations opening up in the United States.
German-based RWE Effizienz, is a 100% subsidiary of the Utility RWE, one of Europe’s big five electricity and gas companies.
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Joerg Lohr, Senior Manager Sales within the RWE E-Mobility team to provide some background on the company’s expertise.
Lohr: RWE started the EV Business in the early 70s, at which time the company even intended to produce electric vehicles. It was ahead of its time, and there was not enough demand for alternative mobility concepts. In 2008, the Corporate Strategy Department evaluated E-Mobility as one of the future markets for Utilities worldwide, and in 2009, RWE Effizienz, was founded as a 100% Subsidiary of the RWE Group. The E-Mobility-Department is part of RWE Effizienz, which now has 60 employees working on infrastructure, IT, sales and business modeling to develop and sell future-proof, innovative EVSE solutions worldwide.
AI: What successes can you share with us?
Lohr: We operate more than 1,200 public access charging outlets across Europe, each of which is connected to our electric vehicle (EV) management system. The first stations are being installed in the USA and China, making us one of the biggest operators of intelligent infrastructure for electric vehicles in the world, and unique within Europe. Two lighthouse projects are in Berlin and Amsterdam. In Berlin, we have had more than 180 charging points for the past two and a half years in partnership with Daimler, which has a fleet of 100 smart EVs. Vattenfall, another utility, and BMW are also part of the project. Working together, we have been able to demonstrate the roaming and billing processes, as well as the interoperability of several hardware providers. In addition, we piloted our joint charging protocol with Daimler. This protocol is now defined as the ISO/IEC 15118 standard.
Amsterdam is home to the first commercial EV project in Europe, and we are one of two EVSE providers. We consult to the City of Amsterdam, and support our Dutch subsidiary Essent, in the deployment and operation of more than 250 charging points. These two projects have gone from concept to implementation.
AI: What are the basics of your business model and strategy?
Lohr: As a subsidiary of a utility company, the provision of electricity and managing customer relationships are part of the business model. But as an infrastructure operator, we have a much bigger scope. We develop infrastructure for both residential and public purposes, and hold the patents and licenses. Selling this infrastructure on all continents is actually the biggest part of our business. We provide technology for AC and DC charging, and we also support the operation of this intelligent technology with our Infrastructure Control System. Without giving away too much of our strategy, electric vehicles are just a part of a complex, innovative grid solution with decentralized generation and intelligent consumption points. As part of a utility, we can draw on extensive experience of grid management and generation. RWE is also one of the biggest investors in renewables in Europe. So, our strategy is to provide knowledge, products and services to make smart grids happen.
AI: How important are partnerships in developing the business model?
Lohr: Partnerships form the backbone of our business model. There are a lot of innovative providers of EVSE and really smart concepts. But the E-Mobility-market still is a startup-market. We have to set standards, create business opportunities and – most important – legal frameworks that create revenues and business cases for all stakeholders. At such an early stage, it is always better to cooperate than to compete. We are cooperating with all major OEMs to understand their strategy and to provide future-proof solutions for electric vehicles. We also run a global partnership network with major utilities to avoid additional costs as we search for the right solution to EVSEs into the utility business.
AI: What are you most proud of so far?
Lohr: On the infrastructure side, we created a protocol of communication between the vehicle and the EVSE to provide smart charging and the extension of communication in the vehicle. Most of the OEMs are now following this strategy. Governments and experts all around the world are talking about smart grid. The electric vehicle will not just be another consumption point, but will play a significant role as storage facility of energy generated by renewables. In this case, EVSE has to be intelligent and allow bidirectional data and electricity flow throughout the infrastructure into the vehicle. Given that, we pretty much defined the system by enabling electric vehicles to be integrated in an intelligent grid infrastructure. And, we operate the biggest network of intelligent charging stations in Europe. I think we can be a little proud of this fact.
AI: What surprises you about this industry?
Lohr: The speed of the development in this industry is amazing, as is the variety of solutions. It is surprising that within the space of a year, we are no longer talking about stand-alone EV concepts. The OEMs are electrifying whole fleets. This is a fact most of the experts never would have believed two years ago.
AI: What is your vision for this industry?
Lohr: I think that we will have a very strong consolidation on the EVSE part of the industry. A lot of smaller companies with innovative concepts will be merged or become part of joint ventures. Hardware will become a commodity product, but the management of smart technology as part of intelligent grids will become centre of the value creation. On the OEM side, I expect to see change on the supply chain. We will see more “in-sourcing” as the electric vehicle becomes another centre of value creation. It is not the engine any more, it is all about the battery. In future, OEMs will differentiate their products by the performance, range and costs of the battery. This is a completely new core function, and not something an OEM will entrust to the value chain. Generally, I expect that there will be three key players in this new market. First the OEM, as individual mobility will always remain one of the basic demands of human beings. Second, the authorities. They are responsible for the provision of basic services such as electricity and public infrastructure. And third, it will be the utilities. They will be responsible for making the strategy and energy policy of governments happen.